Trawling is the main threat in the Mediterranean and has driven the kelp forests to the brink of extinction in the Adriatic Sea.
In the Atlantic, European countries have failed to reach agreement about including them in the list of endangered habitats.
The kelp forests in European waters are declining, and their decline is particularly worrying in the southernmost areas, according to a scientific publication which involved the participation of Oceana and experts from seven different countries. These ecosystems are as productive as rainforests, and they are under threat. For this reason, the international marine conservation organisation is asking for effective protection for them against aggressive activities such as trawling.
“The kelp forests are among the most important ecosystems in Europe but also the least protected by conservation measures," explains Ricardo Aguilar, director of research for Oceana in Europe and one of the authors of the study. “While forest fires generate social alarm, the disappearance of kelp forests is going unnoticed. There is an urgent need to take effective measures before it is too late to protect habitats that a large number of species depend on.”
The laminaria or kelp forests provide food and shelter to many fish, invertebrates, mammals and birds, but are very sensitive to pollution, climate change and overfishing.
As the article notes, some species of kelp have suffered a rapid decline in European seas. An alarming case is that of the Laminaria rodriguezii in the Adriatic Sea, where it is estimated that there has been a decline of 85% over the last 40 years due to overfishing, which has resulted in the species being in danger of extinction in this area. Laminaria rodriguezii is protected by the Barcelona Convention, and one of the most important forests for this species is in an area included in Oceana’s proposal to extend the Cabrera National Park, in Spain (Balearic Islands).
In the Atlantic, the decline in the kelp population has reached local extinction in some areas (e.g. Laminaria ochroleuca in the north of the Iberian Peninsula). For many Atlantic species there are no existing protection measures despite their critical situation due to causes such as higher water temperatures, pollution and commercial over-exploitation. Oceana has spent several years fighting for the inclusion of these forests in the list of threatened and/or endangered habitats of the OSPAR Convention, which brings together the countries with waters in the North-East Atlantic, as well as insisting on proper management in the cases where these protective measures already exist.